Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Blow-up sex dolls and Robert Smith’s hair: Lollapalooza 2013

Illustration for article titled Blow-up sex dolls and Robert Smith’s hair: Lollapalooza 2013
Illustration for article titled Blow-up sex dolls and Robert Smith’s hair: Lollapalooza 2013

Now in its ninth year in Chicago’s Grant Park, Lollapalooza has become a kind of rite of summer passage. Hordes of suburban teenagers in their midriff tops and basketball jerseys descend on downtown, braving the 100,000-strong crowd and usually hot weather to check out everyone from Skrillex to The Cure. This year, apart from a little rain on Friday, the weather was great, and the whole thing went off without a hitch once again. Rumors have even started bouncing around that the fest will expand to two weekends next year, a move that wouldn’t be at all unprecedented. Several A.V. Club reporters once again donned our comfortable shoes and headed into the throngs of drunk and disaffected youth to capture the best and the worst of the fest and its aftershows, from The Postal Service’s last hurrah to Nine Inch Nails’ (not all that) surprising comeback.

Most surprising homage to Stop Making Sense: Nine Inch Nails
The Bud Light Stage was surprisingly bare before Nine Inch Nails took the stage Friday night, especially considering the stunningly elaborate light show the band had in tow the last time it played Lollapalooza. A large, plain white banner hung in the back, and only a microphone stand stood on the stage. Just before the band’s set, a tech brought out a small keyboard and set it next to the mic stand. Trent Reznor followed, then began the new “Copy Of A” by himself. A little bit into the song, another keyboardist joined him. A little bit after that, an electronic drum kit, and so on until Reznor’s entire backing band was on stage. Okay, Reznor wasn’t in a giant suit, and the band members didn’t wait until a new song to come out, but it was a neat bit of staging anyway. Gradually over the course of the set—which plowed through hits like “March Of The Pigs,” “Terrible Lie,” “Closer,” “Gave Up,” “Bite The Hand That Feeds,” “Head Like A Hole,” “Hurt”—Nine Inch Nails’ seemingly simple stage setup grew more visually elaborate, with large, rotating screen panels that moved around the stage in coordination with the music. [KR]

Most appropriate fainting spell: During “Terrible Lie” by Nine Inch Nails, a woman standing by me collapsed right as Trent Reznor sang “I need someone to hold onto.” Her body was taking the lyrics a little literally, no? (She was okay.) [KR]

Biggest jackass, Pedicab Division: As the crowd streamed out of the north entrance of Lollapalooza Friday night and headed west on Monroe Street, many people took advantage of the pedicabs milling around. The festive (drunken) atmosphere prompted one guy to jump on the back of a pedicab with three people already crammed into it, which caused the entire thing to flip back. No one was hurt, and the jackass was very apologetic—and it certainly wouldn’t be the last bad idea someone had this weekend. [KR]

Most relevant nostalgia act: New Order
A lot of the top-billed bands at this year’s Lollapalooza could be considered legacy or nostalgia acts, and none more so than New Order, which had an incredibly fertile period from 1983-1993, but has basically run on fumes since. The storied British electro-rock band no longer includes feisty bassist Peter Hook, but original keyboard player Gillian Gilbert is back in the fold. Clearly understanding what the people want, New Order stuck largely to the hits, running through genius ’80s songs from “True Faith” to a particularly rocking “Temptation” to, naturally, “Blue Monday.” It went even further back for the last three songs of the set, paying tribute to its own past with Joy Division’s “Atmosphere,” “Transmission,” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” The response for the awfully young Lolla crowd was strong, though clearly not as strong as for the more current, beat-heavy acts that dominated the Perry’s Stage. Also: negative points to New Order for doing pretty much exactly the same set it did in Chicago 10 months ago, though hits are hits… [JM]

Most feel-good moment: Kendrick Lamar
One of Saturday’s most anticipated and raucous sets came from rapper Kendrick Lamar, who’s riding high off the success of last year’s fantastic debut, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. Lamar exploded onto the giant Bud Light Stage to a barrage of klaxons within moments of Foals finishing on the neighboring Petrillo Stage. About halfway into the set, during “The Recipe,” the joyous crowd lifted a man in a wheelchair up like a crowd surfer, to his evident delight. Lamar gave him a shout-out from the stage. When the crowd erupted for “M.A.A.D City,” people lifted the wheelchair guy up even higher, and this time Lamar stopped the song while the guy was passed to the front. When security started to push him off to the side like it does other crowd-surfers, Lamar stopped them and directed him to the front of the stage. If the massive crowd weren’t already on Lamar’s side, that sealed the deal. [KR]


Most logical upgrade: The National
When The National made its Lollapalooza debut in 2008, it played a Saturday afternoon set on the second-tier PlayStation 3 Stage. When it returned in 2010, it played the same stage at roughly the same time. But a band that headlines Brooklyn’s 18,000-seat Barclays Center—as The National did in June—and has released its most acclaimed album to date (Trouble Will Find Me) earns a spot on one of Lolla’s two big stages. Early Saturday evening, the band took to the massive, awkwardly named Red Bull Sound Select Stage to perform a set heavy on songs from its most recent albums (but including older fan favorites like “Abel” and “Mr. November”). The National’s members couldn’t look like more unassuming dudes, but they belonged on the same stage that Mumford & Sons would play a couple hours later to close out Saturday night. [KR]


Most in need of a bigger stage: The Lumineers
“Ho Hey” by The Lumineers has become one of the past year’s most inescapable songs (it has more than 83 million plays on YouTube), so the band’s performance on the second-tier Lake Shore Stage (just before Mumford & Sons’ headlining set on the neighboring Red Bull Sound Select Stage) drew a massive crowd. “Stubborn Love,” also from last year’s self-titled debut, inspired a sing-along that filled much of enormous Hutchinson Field. [KR]

Most welcome development that probably shows C3 is asking too much money for stage-naming privileges: Since Lollapalooza regenerated in Chicago in 2005, it has called its stages by a variety of monikers, the naming privileges for which cost big bucks. Those names have been awkward (Sony Bloggie Stage, 2010), tragically hopeful (the Chicago 2016 Stage in 2009 was named for the city’s failed Olympic bid), or now relics of a bygone era (the MySpace Stage, the Q101 Stage). This year, though, three of Lolla’s stages apparently went unsponsored: the Petrillo Stage (a.k.a. Grant Park’s Petrillo Music Shell, the only permanent stage on the Lolla grounds), known as the PlayStation Stage in years past; The Grove Stage, named for its shady, comfortable location was Google Play or Google+ the past two years; and the large Lake Shore Stage has gone by a number of names over the years. What gives? Perhaps Lollapalooza organizer C3 Presents is asking for too much money, or maybe sponsors were stingier this year. But at a festival that has branding all over the place, it’s nice not to sound like a commercial while simply saying a location’s name. [KR]


Largest inflatable banana: Dada Life
Swedish DJ duo Dada Life has a bit of a banana obsession, and a sample from Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” anchors its track “This Shit Is Bananas.” So, naturally, Dada Life had a giant, inflatable banana to drop on the crowd during its Saturday-evening set. It didn’t look out of place at all on the EDM-oriented Perry’s Stage, where such antics are both expected and appreciated. [KR]

Biggest new sister act: Haim
Haim’s moving up, up, up. Blogs are already heralding the group’s new single, “The Wire,” as the late-breaking song of the summer, and the crowd for the group’s early-evening show on Saturday was pretty massive, especially considering the group hasn’t released its first record yet. The family band’s songs are catchy and (thankfully) totally rocking, something that’s always refreshing when coming from a trio of longhaired, guitar-playing sisters. Haim’s not all that underground anymore, but anyone who wants to be able to say “I saw them when” should probably go check out a show in the near future. [ME]


Most popular band, whether you like it or not: Mumford & Sons
Headlining the main stage Saturday night, Mumford & Sons drew an absolutely gargantuan (and caucasian) crowd, dwarfing what The Postal Service had on the other side of the park. The band ran through all its hits, and the crowd ate up every second, cheering long and loud when frontman Marcus Mumford talked about how glad he was that bassist Ted Dwane was alive following his recent health scare. About 100,000 people attended Lolla on Saturday, and if the way the 75,000 or so that watched Mumford reacted when the group played the opening notes of “The Cave” is any indication, the group is here to stay—at least for a while. [ME]

Act that most benefitted from an aftershow: Ghost B.C. 
While it’s pretty great that jokey Scandinavian metal band Ghost B.C. can get booked on stuff like Lollapalooza and Coachella, seeing the almost comically dark band during the harsh light of the early afternoon on a giant stage just isn’t really conducive to its aesthetic. Fortunately, the band played an aftershow Saturday night at the Double Door, a hot and dingy little club in Chicago’s Wicker Park. While sightlines aren’t the best at that place, the dark, contained nature of the show made it leaps and bounds better than anything that could take place outside. Plus, the great Skeletonwitch opened. [ME]



Best storytellers set: Pujol
For a band that plays country-tinged slacker-punk that’s decidedly laid-back, Pujol sure is prolific. An early-Saturday slot and sparse crowd could’ve taken the wind taken out of its sails, but the Nashville band injected the intimacy of a sweat-soaked basement show into its set. Frontman Daniel Pujol introduced each song with a quick “This song’s about…” line, followed immediately by a tension-defusing one-liner. (His quip that the relatively new “Dark Knight In Shining Armor” is about “the hero Gotham needs” killed.) The band’s personality helped make a strong performance even better. [DA]


Best victory lap: The Postal Service
It’s rare for a short-lived band to have the chance to enjoy its success, which is why reunions entice so many of them. In that sense, The Postal Service’s headlining set Saturday night saw the band taking the car out for one last spin, as Ben Gibbard announced on Twitter and at the show that its final performance would be a Lollapalooza after-show the following night. Unsurprisingly, The Postal Service’s Lolla gig felt like a celebration of its only album, Give Up (played in its entirety), its recently released 2006 recordings, and anything else that would elicit a positive reaction (the Dntel song that originally brought Jimmy Tamborello and Gibbard together being one of them). The band’s “new” songs sparkled, hinting there was a little more gas in the tank than anyone thought, including The Postal Service. [DA]

Best comeback: Tegan And Sara
The second day of Lollapalooza’s first Chicago installment in 2005 was infamously hot, with temperatures reaching 104 degrees. Tegan And Sara’s Canadian constitutions were in danger from the start, but dressing all in black for an afternoon gig in the sun didn’t help matters. After Sara suffered heat stroke, the duo cut its set short. Eight years later, they faced another sunny day, only this one about 30 degrees cooler. “This is our big comeback!” Tegan exclaimed after “Goodbye, Goodbye.” “We’re so excited to be wearing jackets, I can’t even tell you.” Someone in the audience even made a sign saying “SARA WILL SURVIVE LOLLAPALOOZA 2012.” Seeing it, Sara noted, “Let the record show I’m not the only person who’s fainted at Lollapalooza. I don’t want to take all the credit.” “That’s a good point,” Tegan added. “A moment of silence for all the other people who’ve fainted. Their fellow Canadians in The Arcade Fire also performed in 2005, all of them decked out in their heavy, quasi-Amish finery—but Win Butler grew up in Texas, so maybe he had an advantage. With temperature no issue, Tegan And Sara divided their set between older and newer songs, closing out with “Closer,” which caused the most dancing and singing along of their set. [KR]


Classiest dude: This is always a tough category with fierce competition, but 2013’s top honors go to the guy carrying on his shoulders an inflatable female sex doll with “SLUT” written on the tape over its mouth. To round out his ensemble, he wore a tank top that said “I LOVE A PRETTY COCK.” [KR]

Most fun/disturbing, depending on point of view: Major Lazer
A person could say Major Lazer killed with an incredibly raucous, kind of raunchy, but overall ecstatic set. Another could say it was a typical example of the trivial sexualization of women, complete with exhortations to remove their tops (guys too) and a group of girls selected from the audience to twerk onstage. It was either an explosive, high-BPM dance party, or a not-so-subtly degrading one. Everyone had a good time, or the sexualization of young girls continued with depressing zeal. It was probably both—and that goes for the EDM-heavy Perry’s Stage in general. [KR]


Southern hospitality award: Baroness
Baroness has had a rough year. After the release of Yellow & Green, its sprawling, classic-rock-inspired double album, the band suffered a horrific bus accident in August 2012 that sidelined it for the remainder of the year. After the wreck, bassist Matt Maggioni and drummer Allen Blickle quit, so the band spent a good chunk of this year in flux. Buoyed by new members Nick Jost and Sebastian Thomson and clearly elated to be back in action, guitarist Peter Adams and vocalist-guitarist John Baizley played Baroness’ hour-long set with genuine, joyous energy, with Adams challenging Slayer’s Tom Araya for best hair-whips, and Baizley grinning from ear to ear. It was an unnaturally positive set for metal, as Baroness seemed happy just to be playing and thankful for the crowd’s enthusiasm. The band avoided much of its earlier work, though, as those sludgy passages would have felt out of place with all the positivity and graciousness. [DA]

Biggest group of teen dreams: Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend is obviously a popular band, but it wasn’t really clear how popular the act was with girls, specifically, until the group took the stage Sunday evening to an almost-deafening level of girlish squeals and a crowd that far outdrew headliners Nine Inch Nails, The Postal Service, and Phoenix on the same stage. Sure, frontman Ezra Koenig is dreamy, what with his Harry Styles-esque hair swoop, and bassist Chris Baio is one of the cutest dancers out there, but who knew that 19-year-olds (and Rahm Emanuel, who watched sidestage) were so into songs about horchata and being tied to train tracks? [ME]


Most excessive use of fog machines: The Cure
Appearing on a fog-drenched stage that only grew foggier as the night went on, The Cure caked each song of its two-hour set with moodiness only slightly thicker than Robert Smith’s make-up. (The “decrepit goth kid” look isn’t doing him any favors at 54.) The band opened with the one-two punch of “Plainsong” and “Pictures Of You” from Disintegration, but split its set between its gothier material (“The Walk,” “One Hundred Years,” “Disintegration”) and its poppier songs (“Just Like Heaven,” “In Between Days,” “Boys Don’t Cry”). Smith said little between the songs, but when the songs hold up this well, he doesn’t really need to talk. [DA]

Best (and only acceptable) use of a repeated song: The Postal Service
At its final show Sunday night—like, final show ever, according to Ben Gibbard—The Postal Service ripped through all of its songs rather quickly, which isn’t hard considering it has only one record. People ate it up, singing along loudly to every word. For the group’s encore, though, something kind of great happened. As if to acknowledge the song that broke The Postal Service through—or maybe just because its members like to play it—the group launched into “Such Great Heights” for a second time. While playing a song twice is usually the mark of a shitty band with a dumb radio single (Smashmouth has been known to play “All Star” multiple times in its set, for example), The Postal Service seemed to be playing the song out of pure love and gratefulness to its fans. It’s a great song, and everyone likes it, so why not? It was a joyous end to a celebratory show and a successful (albeit short) reunion run. [ME]


Band with the most first-time crowdsurfers: Wavves
Wavves has grown into a larger, tighter operation since it first debuted as Nathan Williams’ solo recording project, and each album has expanded its capabilities. At Lollapalooza, Wavves stuck to upbeat, punk-inspired numbers for its 45-minute set, which prompted a bevy of fans to crowd-surf. Many appeared both young and frightened enough to suggest they hadn’t done it before, which only made it more endearing. Lollapalooza may not be the touring festival it was in the ’90s, but it still seems to serve some of the same functions, even if this version of punk is a little less rebellious and more surf-focused. [DA]

Best set of rotating frontmen and women in crazy costumes: Thievery Corporation
Perhaps knowing its laid-back lounge music would probably be a bit too sleepy for the Lolla crowd, Thievery Corporation ramped up the energy, with band members jumping around the stage and trading instruments throughout its Friday-afternoon slot. But the most dynamic part of the set was the endless parade of singers in flashy outfits that matched the songs. Beginning with a dapper emcee, the set also featured copious amounts of face paint, a singer clad entirely in camouflage, a T-shirt strung with tassels, and two reggae singers in safari hats and outfits straight off of Sgt. Pepper’s. [NC]


Most solid, and nothing more, performance: Queens Of The Stone Age
By the time Queens Of The Stone Age appeared Friday, a sizeable crowd had amassed in Grant Park, watching the apocalyptic visuals on the two screens on the sides of the Bud Light stage. Fans probably got what they wanted, but casual observers might have been a bit underwhelmed. Frontman Josh Homme didn’t do much to interact with the crowd or invite audience participation; he mostly stood stoically behind his mic until it was time for a solo. Homme delivered his songs competently, but nothing more. Fans hoping for a raging set would have to wait for the stage’s headliners, Nine Inch Nails, an hour later. [NC]

Best dance party from dudes who look like cool uncles: Hot Chip
Aside from drummer Sarah Jones, who looked straight out of a BBC miniseries in her romper, the members of Hot Chip all kind of look like dudes who would sneak their nephews beers at family reunions. Frontman Alexis Taylor tried to combat that avuncular persona by wearing a matching blue coat and pants, but with his goofy glasses and salt-and-pepper hair, he couldn’t get away from it. Not that it mattered much, because Hot Chip killed regardless. [NC]


The TMZ Club award: While Coachella clearly draws better celebrities, Lolla does all right for itself, particularly in its capacity to pull anyone from a CW series. The Vampire Diaries’ Nina Dobrev mingled backstage right by The Carrie Diaries’ AnnaSophia Robb and 90210’s Shenae Grimes, all while The Twilight Saga’s Kellan Lutz bro-ed down over some ice cream nearby. The guy who plays Junior on Under The Dome was spotted on the grounds. Oh, and Aaron Paul was there too. [ME]